Sri Lankan PM’s residence set on fire amid protests; president to resign July 13


COLOMBO — Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said he will step down on July 13 following protests that shook the country Saturday, in which first thousands of protesters earlier stormed his residence and later set Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s private home on fire.

Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said he was informed by the president of his intention to step down. It comes after Rajapaksa’s official residence was earlier stormed by protesters demanding his resignation after months of unrest over Sri Lanka’s economic crisis.

The private home of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was later set on fire by protesters just hours after he said he would resign.

His private home in Colombo was under siege and then set on fire, just hours after thousands of people occupied President Rajapaksa’s official residence here.

“Protesters have broken into the private residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and have set it on fire,” an official from his office told the BBC.

We don’t yet know the whereabouts of the PM at the time it was set alight. Wickremesinghe lives with his family in the private home, known as Fifth Lane. He uses his official residence, called Temple Trees, for official business only.

Earlier, Wickremesinghe offered to resign and form an all-party government in the wake of massive public anger over an unprecedented economic crisis that has brought Sri Lanka to its knees.

Over the past hour the unrest between protesters and police has intensified outside Wickremesinghe’s residence in the country’s capital Colombo.

Bhavani Foneseka, a prominent human rights lawyer in Colombo, has expressed fears that the situation in Sri Lanka could become “deadly”.

Speaking to the BBC she said there is a worry that there could be violence if people feel that their demands are not met and if the economic situation deteriorates further.

“It’s a very, very uncertain time in Sri Lanka but also unprecedented,” she said. She stressed that a medical crisis was also facing the country.

“So it’s a combination of reasons that could result in violence and violence that could lead to a very deadly situation so there is a very real danger that things could unravel,” she added.

Her comments come as the home of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was set on fire.

As the protests continue, the exact location of Rajapaksa remains unknown after he earlier fled his official residence.

Rajapaksa was escorted to safety after people gathered outside the gates, and he is being protected by a military unit, a top defense source told the AFP news agency.

But speaking to Newshour on the World Service from Colombo, the BBC’S Ranga Sirilal explained that no one knows where the president is.

He said there are claims Rajapaksa is trying to flee Sri Lanka “at any moment” and that he is at the airport.

However, there are other reports that he’s next to Colombo Port amid claims “that two ships that docked at the port were seen loading some traveling bags, suggesting that the president is going to leave”.

What seems more certain, Sirilal added, is that it appears protesters won’t leave the residence until the president resigns and there is some political stability. — BBC

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